News, South County

Narragansett Indian Tribe unable to make payroll

CHARLESTOWN, R.I. (WPRI) — The Narragansett Indian Tribe is unable to pay its 75 full-time employees this week, according to a letter sent to Eyewitness News by Chief Sachem Matthew Thomas.

The letter, dated Jan. 6, is addressed to “Creditors of Our Tribal Employees.” It says the tribe has been “temporarily unable to to access certain Tribal bank accounts used to meet weekly payroll obligations” for the current pay period.

Medicine Man John Brown, a tribal leader, confirmed the letter’s authenticity and said Thomas himself released it. The letter goes on to ask creditors to “extend every courtesy possible” to those tribal members that may be unable to pay their bills because of the payroll issue.

The letter comes shortly after a week-long standoff in which a faction of the tribe took control of the administration building. The faction is led by newly-election Tribal Council members who say they impeached Chief Sachem Thomas on October 1, 2016. The group says Thomas’ apparent Florida residency was part of the reason for the impeachment, because tribal rules requires the Chief Sachem to live in Rhode Island or within a 50 mile radius.

Thomas, however, has maintained that he is still the chief and called the new tribal council “impostors,” claiming that their election was illegal. He said the new council has been defrauding the public and the media.

Brown would not comment on the financial issues, and it remains unclear who has control of the tribe’s bank accounts. Thomas could not be reached for comment Monday. The letter says the tribe is “actively engaged in seeking a resolution to this problem,” and employees will receive back-pay once the situation is resolved.

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